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California jury: criminal Career guilty to killing 2 teens

FILE – This undated file photo provided by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office shows Rodney Halbower. A California jury has started its work in the murder trial of a career criminal authorities believe is the Gypsy Hill Killer. San Mateo County jury began deliberations late Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, after eight days of testimony in Redwood City, about 25 miles (40 km) south of San Francisco. Halbower has been charged with the rape and murder of two teenage women in 1976, in the quiet suburb, just south of San Francisco. (San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office via AP, File)

SAN FRANCISCO – A California jury on Tuesday found guilty of a criminal career, thought that the “Gypsy Hill Killer” of the rape and murder of two young girls more than 42 years ago.

The San Mateo County jury in deliberation for a little more than an hour before finding Rodney Halbower guilty.

The authorities believe that the 69-year-old is responsible for the other rapes and murders on young women in Northern California and Reno, Nevada, over a period of five months span in 1976. In 2004, the progress in DNA technology is connected Halbower to the killings. He was in an Oregon prison at the time.

Halbower is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 10 in Redwood City, about 25 miles (40 km) south of San Francisco. The judge is required to sentence Halbower under the condemnation law of 1976, the year of the crimes occurred.

Prosecutor Steve Wagstaffe said the stiffest sentence available was life with the possibility of parole. Wagstaffe said the judge can impose consecutive sentences, which means that if Halbower was given parole for a murder, he would begin serving the life sentence for the second.

“Our expectation is that this monster of a killer will never, ever be allowed to be free on our streets again,” Wagstaffe said.

The six murders remained a mystery for four decades until a cold-case detective reopened the investigation. He cleared DNA samples from cigarette butts found at the scene and in 2014 they were discovered to match Halbower genetic make-up. DNA taken from the victims also matched Halbower’s DNA, prosecutors told jurors.

It took four years to start Halbower after he was charged with two of the killings. He routinely fired his lawyers and demanded to represent himself. A judge ordered a trial to determine whether he is healthy enough to stand trial. A jury in 2017 found him healthy.

The start of the murder trial ended almost as quickly as it began on Sept. 7 with Halbower disrupt the flow of the procedure.

“I am not guilty!” he shouted at the jury. “I’ve never raped or murdered in my life!”

The judge refused the public defender John Halley’s calls for a mistrial and Halbower ceased its eruptions.

“He doesn’t get to his own mistrial,” Judge Mark Forcum said.

He stopped the outbursts after which Wagstaffe said Halbower quiet congratulations with the ministry Sean Gallagher after the verdicts were read.

The prosecutors said they charged him with two murders, with the strongest evidence and expected that he would be imprisoned for life if convicted.

Gallagher told the jury about the two teenage girls who were kidnapped, raped and murdered in a once-quiet suburb, and that the DNA of semen found in both women and preserved for decades tailored Halbower’s DNA. One of the victims was stabbed to death and another was beaten in the head with concrete and stuck in its heart.

The authorities in the 1970s, said the murders were linked and named the attacker of the Gypsy Hill Killer for the location where one of the first victims was found. Halbower is also a suspect of the rape and killing of a nursing student in Reno in the same period as the five California murders.

It is possible that Halbower would never have been linked to the attacks, he had not escaped from a Nevada prison in December 1986. He made his way to Oregon, where he was arrested on suspicion of rape and attempted murder in the days of his escape.

An Oregon jury convicted Halbower and sentenced him to 15 years in prison in that state. First, he was sent back to Nevada to finish that state of imprisonment.

When Nevada paroled to him, in 2013, he was sent back to Oregon, where the prison officials took a DNA sample and submitted to the national database researchers use to breathe new life into stalled research. The authorities say that the results linked him to the Gypsy Hill case.

Court records show Halbower has spent the past 53 years in the prison or on the lam.

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